Enforce the perjury law or ditch it

Detective Senior Sergeant Aaron Pascoe hard at work not prosecuting perjury cases

Detective Senior Sergeant Aaron Pascoe hard at work not prosecuting perjury cases

by Stephen Cook

ENFORCE THE perjury law or scrap it altogether.

That?s the no-nonsense call from Auckland barrister Chris Patterson in the wake of a startling admission from police they?re turning a blind eye to perjury because it?s too difficult a crime to prosecute.

The perjury issue has recently been making headlines following Chris Cairns? indictment in the United Kingdom in relation to a 2012 UK libel trial over alleged match-fixing.

However, in the past week the debate has shifted to the actual law itself after police here?conceded that knowingly giving false testimony under oath was an offence that was rarely prosecuted.

It?s a remarkable admission from police given the offence of perjury ? punishable by up to 14 years imprisonment ? strikes at the very core of the integrity and confidence we place in our justice system.

The use of perjured testimony not only violates due process, but it can also contribute to wrongful convictions such as that seen in the high-profile Arthur Allan Thomas murder case.

In a police job sheet from June last year obtained this week by Whaleoil, Detective Senior Sergeant Aaron Pascoe, the officer responsible for reviewing all perjury complaints in the Auckland City area, reveals the crime of perjury is not something given much attention by the Crown.

?To give? some context about how Police deal with perjury complaints, and how high the bar is set for prosecutions? two prosecutions have recently been completed to a standard ready to present to the courts and we have not received authority to prosecute,? he said. ??

The comments recorded in Pascoe?s official police job sheet were in response to claims from consumer advocate Dermot Nottingham that witnesses giving evidence before the Real Estate Agents Authority routinely perjured themselves.


Chris Patterson: enforce the perjury laws or scrap them altogether

Patterson said with perjury there was no room for compromise.

It was one of the fundamental tenets of the justice system with stiff penalties under the Crimes Act, but if no one was ever charged what was the point of the law or the deterrents, Patterson asked.

He wasn?t surprised by Pascoe?s remarks or the fact from a policing and prosecution point of view the crime of perjury had for all intents and purposes been relegated to the too hard basket.

The issue basically came down to funding, Patterson said.

?Crown Law has a budget. Within that budget they must work out their priorities and perjury isn?t one of them.?

He said from his experience Crown Law were generally only willing to pursue perjury prosecutions when the complaint had come from one of their clients, say a Government department.

The charge of perjury was inherently difficult to prosecute, but that said he was confident there were plenty of cases where if a prosecution had been brought there would have been convictions.

Patterson said it was difficult enough ? in fact, almost an impossible task ? in the current environment for a judge to form a view on whether a witness was credible or not.

If there was a culture where the truth was a variable concept a judge hearing a case would no longer be able to rely on the oath given by a witness.

?One way to affect that is ensuring there are serious sanctions for breaching that oath. If there are not serious sanctions or sanctions that are not enforced then there is no disincentive for people who are wiling to consider lying on the stand,? he said.

?If I do perjure myself, then so what. Nothing will happen to me.?

Patterson said the Crown basically had one of two solutions to the problem ? either enforce the perjury laws or scrap them altogether.

It was pointless having a law relating to perjury if there was never a public denouncement for that type of offending.

Moving forward, Patterson said it was his view that perjury complaints had to be prosecuted to the full letter of the law if New Zealand was to retain any integrity in its justice system.

?The oath that people give is a cornerstone of our justice system. If these cases are not prosecuted it sends a clear message there is no consequences (for those who perjure themselves).

?If that happens, you may as well not have people take the oath.?

cookStephen Cook is a multi award-winning journalist and former news editor and assistant editor of the Herald on Sunday.